Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel (born Alma Margaretha Maria Schindler; 31 August 1879 – 11 December 1964) was a Viennese-born composer, author, editor, and socialite. At 15, she was mentored by Max Burckhard. Musically active from her early years, she was the composer of nearly fifty songs for voice and piano, and works in other genres as well. Only 17 songs are known to survive.
Alma Margaretha Maria Schindler
31 August 1879
|Died||11 December 1964 85) (aged|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Burial place||Grinzing Cemetery, Vienna|
|Occupation||Composer, socialite, author, editor|
In her early years, she fell in love with composer and conductor Alexander von Zemlinsky, but their relationship did not last long. She became the wife of composer Gustav Mahler, who insisted (as a condition of their marriage) that she give up composing. Eventually she fell into depression from being artistically stifled. While her marriage was struggling, she had an affair with Walter Gropius. Gustav started to encourage Alma's composing and helped prepare some of her compositions for publication, but died soon after this attempted reconciliation in 1911. Alma married Gropius in 1915 and the couple had a daughter together, Manon Gropius. During her marriage to Gropius, Alma had an affair with Franz Werfel. Alma and Werfel were eventually married after Alma separated from Gropius.
In 1938, after the Anschluss, Werfel and Alma were forced to flee Austria as it was unsafe for Jews. Eventually the couple settled in Los Angeles. In later years, her salon became part of the artistic scene, first in Vienna, then in Los Angeles and in New York.
Alma Maria Schindler was born on 31 August 1879 in Vienna, Austria (then Austria-Hungary) to the famous landscape painter Emil Jakob Schindler and his wife Anna Sofie. She was tutored at home and brought up in the Catholic Church. In 1886, Crown Prince Rudolf found interest in Emil Jakob Schindler's paintings and commissioned Schindler to take a trip with his family to the Adriatic coast to produce landscape paintings. In 1892, the family also traveled to the North Sea island of Sylt, where Emil Schindler died.:1–7
After her father's death, Alma focused on the piano. She studied composition and counterpoint with Josef Labor, a blind organist who introduced her to a "great deal of literature". At 15, she was sent to school but attended for only a few months.:1–7 As she grew older, a case of childhood measles left her with decreased hearing. Max Burckhard, friend of Emil Schindler and director of Vienna's Burgtheater theater, became Alma's mentor. On Alma's 17th birthday, Burckhard gave her two laundry baskets full of books. In 1895, Anna Schindler, Alma's mother, married Carl Moll, Emil Schindler's student. In 1899 they had a daughter together named Maria.:8–10
Alma met Gustav Klimt through Carl Moll. Moll and Klimt were both founding members of the Vienna Secession, "a group organized for the purpose of breaking with Vienna's tradition-bound Imperial Academy of the visual arts". Klimt fell in love with Alma. While she initially was interested in Klimt her desire cooled soon after. Klimt and Alma were friends until Klimt's death. In fall 1900, Alma began studying composition with Alexander von Zemlinsky. Zemlinsky and Alma fell in love and kept their relationship a secret.:10–16
Alma teased Zemlinsky about what she thought were his ugly features, saying she could easily have "ten others" to replace him. She also noted that to marry Zemlinsky would mean she would "bring short, degenerate Jew-children into the world".:16–35 As the relationship grew strained, Zemlinsky visited her less and less. On 7 November 1901, she attended Zuckerkandls' salon where she began a flirtation with Gustav Mahler. In the month of November, while still in a relationship with Zemlinsky, she started an affair with Mahler. By 8 December, Mahler and Alma secretly were engaged; however, it was not until 12 December that she wrote to Zemlinsky about her engagement.:16–35 The engagement was formally announced on 23 December.:43
Marriage to Gustav Mahler
On 9 March 1902, she married Gustav Mahler, who was 19 years her senior and the director of the Vienna Court Opera.:45 With him she had two daughters, Maria Anna (1902–1907), who died of scarlet fever or diphtheria, and Anna (1904–1988), who later became a sculptor.:233,251 Gustav was not interested in Alma Mahler's composition, desiring for her to abandon composing. However, it is disputed among scholars whether or not Gustav outright forbade Alma Mahler to compose.:43 Despite this scholarly confusion, she did artistically stifle herself and embraced the role of a loving wife and supporter of her husband's music.:43:48–54
In June 1910, after becoming severely depressed in the wake of Maria's death, Alma began an affair with the young architect Walter Gropius (later head of the Bauhaus), whom she met during a rest at a spa. Gustav sought advice from Sigmund Freud in August. The 2010 film Mahler on the Couch suggests that Gustav's consultations with Freud might have focused on his curtailing of Alma's musical career as a major marital obstacle, but the actual content of them is not known.
Following the emotional crisis in their marriage after Gustav's discovery of Alma's affair with Gropius, Gustav began to take a serious interest in Alma's musical compositions, regretting his earlier dismissive attitude and taking promotional actions. Gustav edited some of her songs (Die stille Stadt, In meines Vaters Garten, Laue Sommernacht, Bei dir ist es traut, Ich wandle unter Blumen).:111:85–89 Upon his urging, and under his guidance, Alma prepared five of her songs for publication (they were issued in 1910, by Gustav's own publisher, Universal Edition).:113–119
Relationship with Walter Gropius
After Gustav's death, Alma did not immediately resume contact with Gropius. Between 1912 and 1914 she had a tumultuous affair with the artist Oskar Kokoschka, who created works inspired by his relationship with her, including his painting The Bride of the Wind.:83–85 Kokoschka's possessiveness wore on Alma, and the emotional vicissitudes of the relationship tired them both.
With the coming of World War I, Kokoschka enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Alma subsequently distanced herself from Kokoschka and resumed contact with Walter Gropius, who was also serving in combat at that time.:85–95 She and Gropius married on 18 August 1915 in Berlin during one of his military leaves.:85–90 They had a daughter together, Manon Gropius (1916–1935), who grew up being friends with Maria Altmann. After Manon died of polio at the age of 18, composer Alban Berg dedicated his newly composed Violin Concerto to her, "In Memory of an Angel".:239–242
Alma became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Martin Carl Johannes Gropius (1918–1919). Gropius at first believed that the child was his, but Alma's ongoing affair with Franz Werfel was common knowledge in Vienna by this time.:185 Within a year, they agreed to a divorce. In the meantime, Martin, who had been born prematurely, developed hydrocephalus and died at the age of 10 months. Alma's divorce from Gropius became final in October 1920.:127
Relationship with Franz Werfel
While Gropius's military duties were still keeping him absent, Alma met and began an affair with Prague-born poet and writer Franz Werfel in Fall 1917. She and Werfel began openly living together from that point on. However, she postponed marrying Werfel until 1929, after which she took the name Alma Mahler-Werfel.:150
In 1938, following the Anschluss, Alma and Werfel, who was Jewish, were forced to flee Austria for France; they maintained a household in Sanary-sur-Mer on the French Riviera from Summer 1938 until Spring 1940.:163–171 With the German invasion and occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews and political adversaries to Nazi concentration camps, the couple was no longer safe in France and frantically sought to secure their emigration to the United States. In Marseilles, they were contacted by Varian Fry, an American journalist and emissary of the Emergency Rescue Committee, a private American relief organization that aided refugee intellectuals and artists at that time.:148
As exit visas could not be obtained, Fry arranged for the Werfels to journey on foot across the Pyrenees into Spain, to evade the Vichy French border officials. From Spain, Alma and Franz traveled on to Portugal. They stayed in Monte Estoril, at the Grande Hotel D'Itália, between 8 September and 4 October 1940. On the same day, they boarded the S.S. Nea Hellas headed for New York City, arriving on 13 October.
Eventually they settled in Los Angeles, where Alma continued her role as a hostess, bringing together Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas Mann, and many other artists. Werfel, who had enjoyed moderate renown in the U.S. as an author, achieved popular success with his novel The Song of Bernadette, and the science fiction novel Star of the Unborn, published after his death. Werfel, who had experienced serious heart problems throughout his exile, died of a heart attack in California in 1945.:150–154
Cultural icon in the U.S.
In 1946, Mahler-Werfel became a U.S. citizen. Several years later she moved to New York City, where she remained a cultural figure. Leonard Bernstein, who was a champion of Gustav Mahler's music, stated in his Charles Eliot Norton lectures of 1973 that Mahler-Werfel had attended some of his rehearsals. Benjamin Britten, considering her to be a "living" link to both Mahler and Alban Berg, dedicated his Nocturne for Tenor and Small Orchestra to her.:154
Alma Mahler-Werfel died 11 December 1964 in New York City. She was buried on 8 February 1965 in the Grinzing Cemetery of Vienna in the same grave as her daughter Manon Gropius and a few steps away from her Gustav Mahler.:153–154
In 1999, the granddaughter of Mahler-Werfel requested that five artworks seized under the Nazis be restituted to the family. The paintings were “A summer's night on the beach” (1902) by Edvard Munch and three landscapes by her great-grandfather Emil Jakob Schindler. Alma-Werfel had loaned the paintings to the Oesterreichische Galerie before fleeing the Nazis; Carl Moll a militant Nazi, gained control of them, selling the Munch to the Oesterreichische Galerie in 1940 and keeping the others until, fearing retribution from the Red Army, he committed suicide. Mahler-Werfel's filed claims after the war but was able to recover only the Kokoschka self-portrait. When Austria modified its extremely restrictive restitution laws, the granddaughter revived the claims. Austria initially rejected the claim. After a restitution battle that lasted six decades, Austria finally agreed to restitute the stolen Munch in 2006.
The Alma Problem
Mahler-Werfel's two books on Gustav Mahler influenced studies of the latter. As an articulate, well-connected, and influential woman who outlived her first husband by more than 50 years, Mahler-Werfel was for decades treated as the main authority on the mature Gustav Mahler's values, character, and day-to-day behavior, and her various publications quickly became the central source material for Mahler scholars and music-lovers alike. As scholars investigated her depiction of Mahler and her relationship with him, her accounts have increasingly been revealed as unreliable, false, and misleading. Nevertheless, the deliberate distortions have had a significant influence on several generations of scholars, interpreters, and music-lovers.
Citing the serious contradictions between Alma's accounts and other evidence, including her own diaries, several historians and biographers have begun to speak of the Alma Problem. According to Hugh Wood: "Often she is the only witness, and the biographer has to depend on her while doubting with every sentence her capacity for telling the truth. Everything that passed through her hands must be regarded as tainted".
As a composer
Alma played the piano from childhood and in her memoirs ("Mein Leben"), reports that she first attempted composing in the beginning of 1888 on the Greek island of Corfu. She studied composition with Josef Labor beginning in 1894 or 1895 and until 1901. She met Alexander von Zemlinsky in early 1900, began composition lessons with him that fall, and continued as his student until her engagement with Gustav Mahler in December 1901, after which she ceased composing. Until this time, she had composed or sketched mostly Lieder, but around 20 piano pieces and a small number of chamber music works, and a scene from an opera. She briefly resumed composing in 1910, but stopped in 1915. The chronology of her compositions is difficult to establish because she did not date her manuscripts and destroyed many of them herself. Attempts to establish a chronological list of her works have been made by Susanne Rode-Breymann in 1999 and 2014, and by Knud Martner in 2018.
A total of 17 songs by her survive. Fourteen were published during her lifetime in three publications dated 1910, 1915, and 1924. The first two volumes appeared under the name Alma Maria Schindler-Mahler, and the last volume was published as "Fünf Gesänge" by Alma Maria Mahler; the cover of the 1915 set was illustrated by Oskar Kokoschka. Three additional songs were discovered in manuscript posthumously; two of them were published in the year 2000, edited by Dr. Susan M. Filler, and one published in 2018, edited by Barry Millington. Her personal papers, including music manuscripts, are held at the University of Pennsylvania, the Austrian National Library in Vienna, and the Bavarian State Library in Munich. These songs have been performed and recorded regularly since the 1980s. Orchestral versions of the accompaniments have been produced. Seven songs were orchestrated by David and Colin Matthews (published by Universal Edition), and all 17 songs were orchestrated by Julian Reynolds, and by Jorma Panula.
- Five Songs for voice and piano (published in January 1911)
- (i) Die stille Stadt (The Quiet Town; Richard Dehmel)
- (ii) In meines Vaters Garten (In My Father's Garden; Erich Otto Hartleben)
Note: The original poem is entitled Französisches Wiegenlied or Volkslied, and was composed between May and August 1899.
- (iii) Laue Sommernacht (Mild Summer's Night; Bierbaum)
Note: The original title of the poem is Gefunden.
- (iv) Bei dir ist es traut (With You It Is Pleasant; Rilke)
- (v) Ich wandle unter Blumen (I Stroll Among Flowers; Heine)
- Four Songs for voice and piano (published in June 1915)
- (i) Licht in der Nacht (Light in the Night; Bierbaum)
- (ii) Waldseligkeit (Woodland Bliss; Dehmel)
- (iii) Ansturm (Storm; Dehmel)
- (iv) Erntelied (Harvest Song; Gustav Falke)The original title is Gesang am Morgen (Song at Dawn).
- Five Songs for voice and piano (published in April 1924)
- (i) Hymne (Hymn; Novalis)
- (ii) Ekstase (Ecstasy; Bierbaum)
- (iii) Der Erkennende (The Recognizer; Werfel)
- (iv) Lobgesang (Song of Praise; Dehmel)
- (v) Hymne an die Nacht (Hymn to the Night; Novalis)
- Leise weht ein erstes Blühn (Softly Drifts a First Blossom; Rilke), for voice and piano (published 2000 by Susan M. Filler)
- Kennst du meine Nächte? (Do You Know My Nights?; Leo Greiner), for voice and piano (published 2000 by Susan M. Filler)
- Einsamer Gang (Lonely Walk, Leo Greiner), for voice and piano (published London 2018 by Barry Millington)
In popular culture
American satirist Tom Lehrer regarded her obituary as “the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read”. It prompted him to write the ballad, "Alma", portraying her as "the loveliest girl in Vienna ... the smartest as well" who became a difficult, temperamental companion to the work-absorbed Mahler, Gropius, and Werfel as each in turn came under her "spell". Of her relationship to Mahler he sang: "Their marriage, however, was murdah / He'd scream to the heavens above / 'I'm writing Das Lied von der Erde / and she only vants to make love!'"
In the 1974 film Mahler, by director Ken Russell, Gustav Mahler, while on his last train journey, remembers the important events of his life, such as his relationship with his wife, the deaths of his brother and young daughter, and his trouble with the muses. In the film, Alma was portrayed by Georgina Hale and Gustav by Robert Powell. In 1996, Israeli writer Joshua Sobol and Austrian director Paulus Manker created the polydrama Alma. It played in Vienna for six successive seasons and toured with over 400 performances to Venice, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Petronell, Berlin, Semmering, Jerusalem, and Prague—all places where Mahler-Werfel had lived. The show was made into a three-part TV miniseries in 1997.
A treatment of Mahler-Werfel's life was presented in the 2001 Bruce Beresford film Bride of the Wind, in which Alma was played by Australian actress Sarah Wynter. Gustav Mahler was portrayed by British actor Jonathan Pryce. Swiss actor Vincent Pérez portrayed Oskar Kokoschka.
In 1998, extracts from Alma's diaries were published, covering the years from 1898 to 1902, until the time she married Mahler. In the 2001 novel The Artist's Wife by Max Phillips, she tells her story from the afterlife, focusing on her complicated relationships.
In 2010, the German filmmaker Percy Adlon and his son Felix Adlon released their film Mahler auf der Couch (Mahler on the Couch), which relates Gustav Mahler's tormented relationship with his wife Alma and his meeting with Sigmund Freud in 1910. In the film's introduction, the directors state, "That it happened is fact. How it happened is fiction."
- Nos. 1, 3 and 4 were orchestrated by Paul von Klenau and/or Alban Berg in 1924 and were premiered in Vienna on 22 September 1924 by tenor Laurenz Hofer and conductor Leopold Reichwein. The songs were performed again at a broadcast in the Vienna Radio on 17 February 1929 by tenor Anton Maria Topitz and conductor Rudolf Nilius. On this occasion an interview with Alma Mahler was broadcast. Scores and parts are presumably lost.
- Regarding Gropius, Lehrer sang: "But he would work late at the Bauhaus / and only come home now and then / She said, "Vhat am I running, a chow house? / It's time to change partners again!'":281-2
- Susanne Rode-Breymann: Die Komponistin Alma Mahler-Werfel (Hannoversche Hefte zur Theatergeschichte, Doppelheft 10, 158 Seiten), Niedersächsisches Staatstheater, Hannover 1999, ISBN 3-931266-06-0.
- Monson, Karen (1983). Alma Mahler Muse to Genius. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0-395-32213-0.
- Geddes, John (13 August 2020). "The long, dark past behind the National Gallery's latest acquisition". Maclean's. Retrieved 15 August 2020.
- Hilmes, Oliver (2015). Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler. Boston, Massachusetts: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 978-1-55553-789-0.
- Burr, Ty (29 November 2012). "Movie review: Mahler on the Couch". Boston.com. Boston Globe Media Partners. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
- Giroud, Françoise (1991). Alma Mahler or the Art of Being Loved. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-816156-1.
- Identity Card - Alma Mahler, Exiles Memorial Center.
- Ellis Island Passenger Registration Records.
- She was photographed in such rehearsals by Alfred Eisenstaedt, see e.g. the Euterpe blog.
- "Mahler-Werfel restitution case revived, and put on hold". www.theartnewspaper.com. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- Riding, Alan (9 November 2006). "After 60 Years, Austria Will Return a Munch Work to a Mahler Heir". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- "Mahler-Werfel restitution case revived, and put on hold | The Art Newspaper". 30 March 2021. Archived from the original on 30 March 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- "Mahler's family loses battle over Nazi loot". the Guardian. 30 October 1999. Archived from the original on 24 August 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- Riding, Alan (4 May 2018). "Munch Painting - Marina Mahler - Report - The New York Times". New York Times. Archived from the original on 4 May 2018. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
PARIS, Nov. 8 — After an on-and-off restitution battle lasting six decades, the Austrian Culture Ministry agreed on Wednesday to return a painting by Edvard Munch, “Summer Night on the Beach,” to Marina Mahler. She is the granddaughter of the composer Gustav Mahler and his wife, Alma, who originally owned the oil.
- Hugh Wood (2010). "Part Three: Reviews for The Times Literary Supplement – 7 Gustav Mahler to Alma" (PDF). Staking Out the Territory and Other Writings on Music. pp. 189–192. ISBN 9780955608711. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 July 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
- "Mahler-Werfel Papers". Penn Libraries. Archived from the original on 5 July 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- "The Alma problem". The Guardian. 2 December 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- "Zemlinsky: Songs (complete, orch. Julian Reynolds) (Charlotte Margiono ; Members of the…) | Classical music review from Classical-Music.com". www.classical-music.com. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
- O'Connor, Patrick (9 January 2013). "Mahler, A Complete Songs". www.gramophone.co.uk. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
- Filler, Susan M (2018). Alma Mahler and Her Contemporaries. Routledge. p. 54. ISBN 9781317397977.
- Alma, retrieved 26 January 2021
- "Festival De Cannes". Festival Cannes. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- "Joshua Sobol". ALMA. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
- Moore, Tom. "Mohammed Fairouz: An Interview". Opera Today. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- Koehler, Robert (2001). "BRIDE OF THE WIND". Variety. 383 (4).
- Boxer, Sarah. "The Merry Widow". New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- DeWitt, David. "When Mahler Met Freud Mahler on the Couch, Directed by Percy and Felix Adlon". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- Alma Mahler, My Life, My Loves: Memoirs of Alma Mahler Vermilon Books, reprint edition (February 1989) ISBN 978-0312025403
- Alma Mahler-Werfel, Diaries 1898–1902 (ed. and translator, Antony Beaumont and Susanne Rode-Breymann) Faber and Faber (1 February 1999) ISBN 978-0571193400
- Alma Mahler-Werfel, 'And the bridge is love' Hutchinson of London, first published September 1959,third impression April 1960
- Gustav Mahler, Letters to his Wife [1901–11]. Edited by Henry-Louis de La Grange and Günther Weiss, in Collaboration with Knud Martner. First complete edition, revised and translated by Antony Beaumont (Faber and Faber, London 2004)
- Susanne Rode-Breymann, Die Komponistin Alma Mahler-Werfel (Hanover, 1999)
- Susanne Rode-Breymann, Alma Mahler-Werfel. Muse, Gattin, Witwe (C. H. Beck, Munich 2014)
- Susanne Keegan, The Bride of the Wind. The Life and Times of Alma Mahler-Werfel. (Houghtin Mifflin Company, Boston 1983; Secker & Warburg, London 1984,348 pages).
- "Walter Gropius" in Nicholas Fox Weber, The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.) ISBN 978-0300169843 The chapter opens with her story. pp. 1–5; 11–15; 27–42
- Jörg Rothkamm, "'A husband and wife who are both composers'? An unpublished song version of the so-called "Erntelied" ("Gesang am Morgen") in the hand of Gustav Mahler in light of the correspondence between Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius." In: News about Mahler Research 72, 2018, pp. 7–34.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alma Mahler.|
- Finding aid to the Mahler-Werfel papers at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries
- Franz Werfel Family papers at the Leo Baeck Institute, New York
- Free recordings of her works at the Sophie database
- Free scores by Alma Mahler at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- Mahler, Alma Schindler at Curlie
- "Alma – The loveliest girl in Vienna" on YouTube, by Tom Lehrer, That Was the Year That Was (1965)